Lessons from NaNoWriMo.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Writer.

Man writing

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

You can learn a lot from making the effort.

This is the third year in a row that I’ve written a novel during November. Before that, I had tried to write several books, but they never reached “the end.” Each of these attempts has taught me valuable lessons about writing a novel and about myself. One of the things I learned is how much more I have to learn. Writing, like every other skill, needs both knowledge and practice.

Last week I shared a post about how as I get closer to the end of a writing project the more resistance gets in my way and the harder it is to finish that project. This week I wanted to share with you some of the other lessons I’ve learned because of participating in the NaNoWriMo contest.

Having a deadline keeps you moving forward.

In the past, I’ve started lots of projects which are still residing somewhere in electronic storage. One by one each of these ideas languished as the next shiny idea distracted me. Almost every time I have set a deadline to finish a project, the result has been a completed project.

The exception to meeting my deadlines? Those times I set unrealistically high goals. On an extremely productive writing day I may be able to write 3000 to 4000 words, once I even wrote 8000 words, but planning to write a 50,000-word novel in 10 days by writing 5000 words per day is both unrealistic and undoable for me.

During NaNoWriMo, I stuck to the goal of writing on average 1667 words per day. That occasional high-number-of-words day made up for those days when I simply couldn’t find the time or inspiration to write more than 200 to 300 words. Setting an unrealistic goal for me is a way of sabotaging the project. Setting a doable goal kept me moving forward.

Repeated small efforts add up.

During November, I had several days off from my other work activities. I had counted on writing a large number of words each of those days. That didn’t always happen. Driven by the pressure of a deadline I tried to write something, anything, each day. There were even days when I wrote less than 100 words.

Writing something every day was like drops going into a bucket. While several days output may have been less than I wanted, doing something each day kept my bucket filling and my goal in sight.

Having a story blueprint kept my process moving.

I’ve tried both outlining and going by the seat of my pants. Neither of these approaches was the full answer for me. What has worked best for me is to think through the story and create a list of the scenes that will make up the story. I started this book with an outline at the scene level but for many scenes nothing beyond the basic idea for that section.

For some of these scenes, I had several paragraphs of ideas. For others, I had a single sentence. Each day I sat down and wrote at least one scene. Some of the scenes were well thought out in advance while others I had to “right into the dark.”

After each scene, I looked back at my scene list to see what was coming up next. Almost every time, what I had written in one scene resulted in my revising my “outline.”

There’s a lot more to do after you type “the end.”

Trying to write a perfect first draft resulted in a lot of opening chapters that went nowhere. For me, there’s no such thing as writing a great first draft. In the first draft, I get the story down. But after that first draft, there’s going to be a lot of editing and polishing before I can publish this book. I’ve learned to accept that writing a publishable book takes me a lot of hours.

In writing from start to finish something suffered. Having written the first draft in one month, I discovered certain things were left out. While I think I have the framework of the story, the finishing touches are missing.

I’ve already gone through the manuscript briefly correcting a lot of typing, spelling, and grammar errors. But I discovered that what I had left out were descriptions. In places, I just say my protagonist walked up to the house. What I haven’t said is very much about the house they are approaching.

Another thing that happens when I write the way I would tell a story verbally is that I have certain words I use repeatedly. Polishing the language is something best left for subsequent drafts.

Before this book gets published, I will need to do not only editing but all the tasks of publishing. There’s a cover to create. A manuscript to format. Blurbs to write. And a great many other tasks associated with publishing and marketing the book.

Having too many priorities means nothing gets done.

Looking back over this last year, I’ve been working on a lot of projects. The consequence of having many “priorities” was that I completed very few of these projects. Every time I have picked one major priority and put a large share of my efforts into that project, I have been able to complete it.

A prime example of selecting one project and focusing on it is the three books listed below. Each of these books was started a long time ago, and each was finished when I finally decided to make them my top priority and set a final date for completion.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and many other online stores.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

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